North Carolina Court Invalidates Amendments

A three-judge court has put on hold the attempt of the Legislature in North Carolina to redistribute power between the Legislature and the Governor. See: This article from USN&WR.

Battles between the governors and the legislators are a pretty constant part of North Carolina history, from what I have seen. There are legislators this year who have threatened impeachment of various judges over resistance to the Legislature’s power grab (à la West Virginia). We shall see how this plays out.

Now, if someone would just end the stupid toll lanes. :mad:

Clarifying for anyone else confused by the title and OP: the judicial panel ruled that the proposed amendments could not be included on the ballot due to their wording.

Thanks for starting this–I try to keep people up to date on NC legislative shenanigans, but I dropped the ball :).

So a huge part of the problem is that the amendment descriptions for the ballots were incredibly misleading. I’ll go into one of them here, let y’all look up the other, because I understand this one better.

Here’s what the ballot would’ve said:

Sounds good, right? Nonpartisan is great, isn’t it?

Here’s the process this would have entailed, from the actual amendment. Watch step 5.

  1. The governor, Chief Justice, and legislature each appoint up to 3 members to a 9-member panel.
  2. “The people” nominate judges to be reviewed by the panel.
  3. The panel is allowed only to look at whether the nominees are qualified to be judges.
  4. They send a list of qualified judges to the legislature.
  6. The governor chooses one of the nominees from the legislature’s list.
  7. If he doesn’t choose one within 10 days, the legislature gets to choose.

Do you see the slight of hand there? I capitalized it. Does that look nonpartisan to you?

From that article, it sounds like the ruling does not address the substance of the proposed changes but is more about which branch controls access to the ballot for proposed amendments, and what standards apply to such access.

What am I missing? As long as the Legislature must select two from the list, it looks like the list has already taken the partisan hacks out of the running. I agree that the amendment title is puffery, but I have never seen a ballot title that is not. We always have the “Preserving Traditional Marriage Amendment” and the “Greater Roads to Prosperity for the 21st Century” type of stuff.

People are free to debate whether this is actually what the amendment does. It is not the place of the judiciary to substitute its will in the constitutional amendment process.

To make it more clear to those of us without a program, it might help to point out that the legislative majority is Republican, while the governor is a Democrat.

I was immediately suspicious that something like this was the case when the phrase “professional qualifications instead of political influence” came up. This is a common trope when one side wants to have its own way all the time but doesn’t have the political power to make it happen. More commonly used by Republicans, in my (admittedly not omniscient) experience.

I still don’t see it. The Legislature appoints 3 members of this 9 member committee. The governor appoints 3, the Court appoints the other three.

Yes, the Legislature picks 2 from the final list, but to get a political hack on the final list, the 3 members of the committee must convince 2 others to vote for the hack. Two others either from the one the Dem Governor picked (highly unlikely) or 2 of 3 from those selected by the court. The Governor is under the same disability.

So what happens is that the partisans on the committee have to compromise with the supposedly neutral members of the Court (who presumably care about judicial quality and not about the simple vote outcome). It may not be a perfect system, but it seems to at least superficially achieve what it describes.

You’re missing step 3.

Here’s how a rightwing legislature guarantees rightwing judges:

  1. They appoint whoever they want to the panel
  2. They recommend at least 5 rightwing judges to be evaluated by the panel.
  3. The panel only gets to say whether the judges are qualified–that is, they have experience and no felony backgrounds, or whatever. The panel specifically doesn’t get to look at anything other than basic qualifications.
  4. Probably all 5 of the rightwing nominees, along with dozens of other nominees (including leftwing nominees nominated in step 2), get passed along to the legislature.
  5. The legislature looks at the list of dozens of nominees and selects two of their rightwing nominees to pass on to the governor.
  6. The governor has to choose Tweedledum or Tweedledee.
  7. If he doesn’t, the legislature gets to choose.

Step 3’s official text, from the amendment: the panel

The whole basis for the legislature’s existence is illegal, so until that is remedied with legitimate elections, it shouldn’t be ceremonially renaming highways let alone amending the state constitution.

Foremost among legislative duties is stability, which is best served by a state of perpetual incumbency. They have the crucial experience, they know where the levers of power are, where the bodies are buried, and who put them there. It is not that they disfavor progress, they are all *for *progress, so long as it doesn’t involve change.